OPL 245 process, Eni: the unbearable lightness of the former minister

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Eni’s maxi-bribe trial, the former Nigerian Attorney General Ojo knew Etete’s position but did not see any conflicts of interest. Three years later, he got a super consultancy

By Matteo Cavallito 

At the OPL 245 trial – in which Eni, Shell and 13 other key figures, including managers and intermediaries, are in the dock – it is the day of Christopher Adebayo Ojo. It is in fact up to the former Minister of Justice of Nigeria to explain his role in the complex affair that revolves around the alleged billion dollar bribe paid for the acquisition of the rich oil license in the country.

“Etete? I saw no conflict of interest.”

Ojo entered the scene in 2005 when he became attorney general of the government, a position he held for three years. In 2006, he countersigned the agreement to return to Malabu Oil & Gas control of the OPL 245 license, which had been managed exclusively by Shell since 2002. An agreement urged by oil minister Dan Etete who, however, as we know, is also the actual owner of Malabu itself. The public prosecutor Sergio Spadaro remembers it, but on this occasion the nonchalance of the former minister is proverbial.

Did you know that Etete had an interest in the company? “Yes.” Didn’t you think that Malabu’s OPL allocation was illegitimate? “No.”

 50 million for unsuccessful consulting

The lightness of the answers is striking several times, as is the absolute imperturbability with which Ojo will confirm from now on details that are in some ways surprising, not to say suspicious, at least in the eyes of the prosecution. In 2009, Malabu, or Etete, took over the former minister as legal advisor to find potential buyers for OPLs. Result? A series of unsuccessful encounters.

Spadaro asks for the names and Ojo opposes professional secrecy, claiming, however, that he has never met representatives of ENI or Shell. The consultant’s contribution to the 2011 agreement that allows the two corporations to take control of the license is in fact null and void. Yet, as agreed with Etete, the former minister is paid a fee of 50 million dollars.

Switzerland Stops Falcioni

And here opens another chapter. The original agreement provided that the transaction would be managed by Petrol Service, the company of the Italian honorary vice-consul in Nigeria Gianfranco Falcioni, one of the defendants in the trial. Falcioni would have guaranteed the success of the operation by collecting for this 5 million dollars, 10% of the fee of Ojo.

However, the agreement fades almost immediately. After receiving the $1.092 billion paid by Eni for the acquisition of the license to a JP Morgan bank account in London, the Government of Nigeria tries to transfer the amount to Petrol Service. The recipient of the transfer is a company account with the BSI bank in Lugano. However, the Swiss do not trust the sender and reject the transfer. According to the prosecution, Falcioni’s company served as an intermediary to cover the real beneficiary of the transaction, namely Dan Etete. Falcioni would ultimately be left empty-handed.

“I’m still waiting for 40 million.”

The money will still arrive in Nigeria and a majority share of the amount, 532 million $, will end up in the hands of one of the great protagonists of the affair: the super-dealer Abubakar Alyu, a great friend of the former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan. It would have been he, according to the reconstruction of the prosecution, who distributed the shares of the alleged maxi bribe. Adebayo Ojo, recipient of a $10 million transaction carried out by a company called Rocky Top Resources, isalso a beneficiary. Ojo said in the courtroom that he had legitimately received that money as part of Malabu’s compensation. And the remaining 40 million? He’s still waiting for them, he explained, but he’s looking forward to receiving them. At the moment he has not filed any lawsuit for non-payment.

The minister denies Eni manager

Ojo, you understand, it’s not easy to break up. Not even in the face of the figures with the many zeros. In the course of his statement, he also stated that he was still in business with former manager Eni Vincenzo Armanna, another of the defendants in the trial. The former minister, in particular, says that he has paid him a contribution of $ 1.2 million to start a “business” in the gold sector. He also stated that he was still interested in working with the partner, expanding his business to include the renewable energy and oil sectors. But according to Ojo, they haven’t heard from each other since last year. As for the business projects, he continued, there would be no written agreement.

The version of Armanna

The witness’ version, however, contrasts with the testimony given to the investigators by the former director of operations, Eni, for the Sahara area. In April 2016, Armanna stated that he was unable to start business because of the low profit margins caused by the high price of gold. The former manager had also called into question personal “economic difficulties”. Adebayo Ojo, the report states, “He actually wanted to have this money back but I involved him in some business and I found him some customers in Nigeria and then, in the end, he was satisfied”. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the sum paid by Ojo – by means of a transfer with reason for payment ‘Eredità Armanna’ – is also a share of the alleged bribes.

Final Scene Shot

In the afternoon it was the turn of the most awaited witness: the presumed dominus of the bribesAlhaji Abubakar Aliyu. But here comes the twist of the day. The witness only found out at the beginning of the hearing that he was being investigated in the proceedings. The Nigerian authorities, charged by the Milanese Public Prosecutor’s Office, apparently failed to notify him of the documents. The Court thus granted a postponement of the testimony until 13 March. On this occasion, Abubakar will still have the opportunity to remain silent.

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